Today, one of my lovely clients said she wanted to work on something that was just “a small issue”.
That took me back to my very steps in the world of counselling and personal development. I volunteered with the Alcohol Advisory Service. (As someone who had never touched a drop, and came from a family who never drank, I suspect I lacked a certain insight. But I did my best.)
As part of the training, trainees had to role play with each other. Then, and many times since, I heard the trainer say: “Pick a small issue to work with.”
I was puzzled then and, to a degree, I still am. I’m not entirely sure what these ‘small issues’ are.
I’m guessing these are the behaviours that don’t wreak major havoc in our lives. Nevertheless they affect the way we show up in the world, the way we are perceived by other people, and the way we feel about ourselves. Because, however ‘small’ they – allegedly – are, they have to have deep roots. How can they not be rooted in our mind-set? How can they not be another manifestation of the limiting beliefs that stymie us in so many ways?
My lovely client’s ‘small issue’ was being late. She’s not too good at getting places on time.
“How does that happen? How do you ‘do’ late?” I asked.
She didn’t seem to know. She just always “ended up leaving the house late”. It wasn’t a major thing, she said. It wasn’t as if she turned up for work 4o minutes late every day. But she did turn up to work a few minutes late most days, and arrived at a Register Office wedding on the weekend, just moments after the bride.
But she didn’t know what that was all about.
Lateness could have been my family’s coat of arms. Unlike heavy drinking, it’s something I know a lot about. So, I know, it’s not something that just happens day in, day out. Lateness is something that happens as a result of certain beliefs that we hold.
Habitual lateness suggests that you aren’t in a rush to get wherever it is that you’re going. And if you’re habitually not in a rush to get where you’re going, there has to be an underlying belief at work.
So, I listened to my lovely client, and gently probed. She was. Indeed, late because she was in no rush to get where she needed to go. And by the time she was en route to her destination she was usually giving herself a hard time for messing up, again.
She didn’t enjoy the self-punishment, at all. That was an old pattern that she, understandably, found very damaging.
As we talked it became clear that she was habitually late because she felt disempowered by the places she was going to.
When we – gently – dug a little deeper, she discovered that the expectation of being disempowered sprang from a belief about being less worthy than other people. As it played out in her mind, she expected to feel disempowered and disregarded, because her belief was that she had little to offer.
Now, is that a ‘small issue’?
Not in my book it’s not.
‘Small issues’ are the ones that allow you to hobble through your day, Walking Wounded style. They make things harder work than they need to be. They slow you down and tired you out prematurely. They stop you reaching your potential.
My lovely client and I did a little work on replacing that ‘small issue’ with a more helpful belief about the value she brings to the World, and the pleasure she can get from contributing.
Will it make a difference? Will that ‘small issue’ now shuffle off to the Retirement Home for Tiresome ‘Small Issues’?
There’s always an outside chance that people will hold on to a behaviour that they perceive as giving them something - even if that something is being a self-professed victim of circumstance, or similar.
But it’s extremely unlikely that my lovely client will keep that ‘small issue’. She’s spent the last few weeks shedding issues – great and small – at a rate of knots. Which is why she’ll be starting a new job, next week, that pays her much more, and gives her more responsibility, and scope to use her talents; a job which 4 weeks ago she wouldn’t even have applied for – because she didn’t feel good enough.
Most of us are tolerating a ‘small issue’ or two. Because we don’t think we’re that important, we tell ourselves our ‘small issue’ is not that important.
Who do you think you could be if you shed your ‘small issue(s)’?